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Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Taboos for you but not for me

by digby

Ezra posted an interview with an expert on the chemical weapons taboo that's well worth reading. I was struck by this:
RP: Skeptics say countries figure out ways to do what they want to do. The United States in 2013, for instance, doesn’t need chemical weapons. It has other ways to accomplish its military ends. There are two responses. One is that these weapons can have indiscriminate effects. Presuming the Assad regime used this weapon, it was because they didn’t accomplish their goals with conventional weapons alone. Conventional weapons in cooperation with chemical rounds can have a much bigger effect if you’re trying to target a large area. So perhaps people have been spared, compared to a world without a taboo in which this is a regular part of war.

Second, there’s a really interesting way in which chemical weapons have helped contribute to a larger effort to constrain war. In the 1980s there was an effort to ban anti-personnel land mines. I was at a lot of those diplomatic conferences. I was really struck by how many times diplomats from various countries made the argument that we’ve already banned one weapon and so we can do this. That precedent made it seem a lot more possible. I’m really convinced that if there wasn’t a quite successful track record on restraining chemical weapons, many more countries around the world would think it preposterous that you could ban a weapon that’s used as widely as land mines. So I think there are some spillover benefits.
Funny thing about that ...
U.S. won't join landmine ban, administration decides

November 24, 2009 6:05 p.m. EST

Washington (CNN) -- The United States won't join its NATO allies and many other countries in formally banning landmines, State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said during his midday briefing Tuesday.

"This administration undertook a policy review and we decided our landmine policy remains in effect," Kelly said in response to a question. "We made our policy review and we determined that we would not be able to meet our national defense needs nor our security commitments to our friends and allies if we sign this convention."
I know we have a lot more moral authority than anyone else because we're good and they're evil and all. But honestly, it would be really refreshing if American politicians just stopped with the lugubriously moralizing about upholding norms. As I have written before, I am all for norms. I think we need many more of them when it comes to state violence. But we have just gone through a period when our leaders tried to legalize torture. And as that article so pithily points out, when the US doesn't feel it can "meet its national defense needs" without using a heinous weapon that maims and kills civilians, it blithely refuses to ban them no matter what the rest of the world has done.

I get that the ban against chemical warfare is of long standing and it's a very bad thing for that to fall away. But if the US wants to lead on this with any credibility it will stop melodramatically evoking Hitler and behaving as if it's acting as the agent of Jesus Christ and Gandhi on the world stage. It's unseemly to say the least.